Scientist Seals Himself in Box to Prove Importance of Plants

prof stewart photo

Photo: edenproject

Gasp: what some people will do in the name of science. Dr. Iain Stewart, a famous geologist, is going to be sealed into an air-tight lucite box for 48 hours.

His only source of air will be oxygen-producing plants. He wants to show how important plants are:acting as the lungs of the earth by providing all the oxygen that sustains us.

rain forest photo

Photo: edenproject

As we all remember from science class, photosynthesis means ''putting together with light'' and is the process by which plants convert sunlight into oxygen. It is crucial to our existence because without plants we can't breathe or grow crops.

So Stewart will be breathing by using the oxygen generated by the plants in the box.
The box itself will measure 6 ft. 6 inches by 20 ft. by 8 ft. It will be cleansed so that the amount of oxygen inside is reduced to about half the normal levels.

There will be around 30 large plants and 130 smaller ones. These have been chosen for the large amount of oxygen that they generate: they will include miscanthus, a type of grass, zea maya, a kindof maize and banana trees. Temperature and humidity will be kept at an optimum level for the plants. Specialist lights will be placed both inside and outside the chamber to ensure the plants are continuously lit throughout the day and night, providing the energy for photosynthesis to take place.

He will have a hammock to sleep in, a laptop to work on and an exercise bike to keep him moving. There will be a doctor outside (!) to ensure that the professor doesn't suffer from oxygen depirvation.

eden stewart photo

Photo: creativecommons/flickr/cayetano

It's all taking place at the Eden Project in Cornwall. This marvel of a "museum" was opened ten years ago. It was created in an abandoned clay mine in an economically depressed area and is a series of biomes where people can learn about nature and environmental projects. They have created a series of stunning gardens where they do valuable research into plants and conservation.

The Eden Project's curator of horticulture explained: "Plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe. They are just there in the background, but most people don't give them a second thought. We don't know exactly how it is going to work out because it is an experiment that hasn't been done before."

It is part of a new BBC documentary series called How Plants Made the World that will be show on television next year and will examine how plants have shaped the earth.

jo priestly photo


He is not the first. The English scientist Joseph Priestly tried it first in 1772. He discovered oxygen and carbonated water. He conducted a similar experiment, only with a mouse and showed that a mouse could survive in an airtight chamber full of plants yet could only live a short time in a box without them. It lived happily ever after, and hopefully so will Stewart.

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